The role of the test leader in the context of scrum teams

The role of the test leader in the context of scrum teams

Scrum teams imply a high level of independence. Delivery, development and testing processes are the responsibility of the team. The team is also responsible for quality. The team is responsible for how they do the work and achieve the results.

It may seem that with such a level of collective responsibility, test leads are almost unnecessary. After all, if the team makes decisions on many issues independently; If the issues that most concern the team are discussed retroactively (and often it is not a question of testing), then as a result the team chooses its own path, and the leads are canceled, are just part of the development team, test complex tasks and that’s it.

In reality, of course, this is not the case. Teams need test leads, or people who fulfill this role. In addition to the usual routine leadership work, they must have a number of specific competencies.

I want to talk about this in this article.


My name is Kyrylo Markidonov. I have been Head of QA in fintech for almost 5 years now. I am also the head of the QA lead course at OTUS. As a QA professional with over 12 years of experience, I definitely know the difference between concepts QA» and testing», quality assurance» and quality control», test lead» and QA manager». Nevertheless, in this article I will talk about QA specialists, using the concept more often the tester». Because it’s just so easy to explain. If I need to draw a dividing line high» QA from simple» testing, I will do this separately during the story.

Likewise with QA management. I will use the term test lead». Your job title can be different, but if it means that you are the direct manager of end-to-end testers, while you yourself are also actively testing applications and are part of the development team, then this article will be useful for you, and I will talk about you how about a test lead, even if you are a QA lead, QA manager or Primary QA.

So, let’s go back to scrum commands. Yes, team members can and should make collective decisions on many issues. However, what questions of QA processes to bring up for discussion to the team, how to formulate them, how to convey to the team proposals for certain actions — this is completely within the sphere of influence of the test lead.

Previously (in the conditional past), the test lead was an ordinary (well, not ordinary) task manager who helped distribute testing tasks to his testers in the team, because he knew their strengths and weaknesses. At the same time, he most often, being the best tester, knew the test object best, taught newcomers and helped with various testing processes. Constantly seeing some problems and imperfections in the development process, the test lead with his team of testers invented workarounds and crutches on the side of his processes to make his life easier and make the product better.

Typical examples of such situations:

  • Programmers don’t write unit tests. Therefore, testers need to strengthen and continue testing.

  • Programmers do not help with impact analysis. OK, give access to the code, we’ll test using the white box method.

  • The manager complains that the testing is taking too long. Let’s start testing earlier and make the regression selective. We will try to write self-tests as best we can.

  • Bad swagger and documentation for the API – don’t worry, we’ll just steam through the UI autotests.

I think that everyone who reads this article will be able to cite at least one example of such a situation in their career, when instead of solving a problem somewhere near its origins, testers patch up holes using their resource.

Before I go on to talk about who a test lead can be, I would like to touch on a very important managerial paradigm that should be applied if you are a leader in a scrum environment.

Servant leadership

The term is not new, it comes from the 70s, it can often be heard in the context of studying agile and scrum methodologies. In Russian, it is translated as “servant leadership”, which hurts my ears a bit. So I will use the English term.

The essence of this approach is that we, as managers, do not assign tasks from above, as is the case in the usual “top-down” management scheme. Instead, we provide the environment, focusing on the needs of the team and each of its members.

In Servant leadership, managers prefer to influence employees’ decisions rather than control their work. Highlight people’s strengths rather than pointing out their weaknesses. They actively listen rather than give direct instructions. The goals of such managers are always long-term, not immediate. A servant leader must have such skills (I am not afraid of this word – skills) as:

  • the ability to listen;

  • radiation of self-confidence;

  • the ability to forecast;

  • empathy;

  • the ability to motivate and persuade;

  • ability to facilitate changes;

  • the ability to take responsibility for the success of others;

  • emotional intelligence (and a half-time psychologist);

  • strategic thinking (aka conceptualization);

  • team-building skills (it is even more correct to say – community building).

Many articles are devoted to this phenomenon. I advise you to delve into servant leadership if you want to be a classroom teacher. I just want to note that although this whole story grew out of the Scrum framework, it is not limited to them.

Now that we remember that it is necessary to be a servant leader, I would like to highlight the following roles in which leaders should act.

  • test lead as a center of QA expertise;

  • test lead as a people manager;

  • test lead as an evangelist of processes in the development team;

  • test lead as a relationship manager;

Test lead as a center of QA expertise

Although many testing and quality assurance decisions are delegated to the team, this fact does not make the team more testing expertise. Someone has to be an expert more than the rest. And who, if not the test lead, has the right (and is able) to take responsibility for being an assistant and expert in quality issues. Yes, the team makes decisions, but what the team makes decisions on is often in the hands of the test lead and his team of testers.

Test-lead as an evangelist of processes in the development team

I must admit, I like this role the most. You remember that scrum postulates that we do not separate programmers and testers, they are just members of the development team. So, one of the important tasks of a test leader is training the whole development teams in the testing part. Ideally, everyone on the team should know the theory and practice of junior qa testing.

Yes, the burden of the management task is removed from us, our testers together with the team decide what to do, but the test lead helps each member of the development team to choose the optimal solution. The test lead also helps to understand exactly what the testers are doing, why they are doing it and what their goals are, so that all developers are pursuing the same goals.

Test lead as a people manager

Regardless of the agile context, a good leader must have people management skills. The ability to communicate with your employees, help them in difficult work (and sometimes personal) situations, motivate them to achieve, provide psychological support, all this is very important for work. For this, you need to be able to at least hold face-to-face meetings, as well as conduct team-building activities.

Test lead as a relationship manager

Not the most obvious role of the lead (any lead, of course, not only in testing). The test leader is still part of the team, but he is already a person who looks beyond the team. Is in contact with the business and receives some introductions from it. In addition to the obvious communication of company goals, explaining department or team goals to your employees, there is also feedback communication.

It is important for us to be able to convey to our manager (in our case it is often the QA manager/Head of QA) any problems and difficulties faced by the team or a specific employee. It is important to talk about the successes of your team. About achieving a set goal (you set goals, right?), about some exploits of someone from the team.

All this is an important part of the work of the leader, and with the advent of scrum it is not going anywhere. Yes, the scrum master does this work from his side. But in the context of the quality department (or QA guild, depending on your organizational structure), it is the test lead who should highlight the successes and challenges of his team.

I have written a lot of good things here, but I understand that there are not many specifics. What team-building activities»? Which meetings alone are really effective? What facilitation techniques can be used in difficult work situations? But what if you are responsible for several teams, but you are part of only one scrum team? All these and many other questions require more than one hour to answer. It is difficult to take and write it in one small article.

Watch videos on YouTube, go to conferences, read articles on Habra – there is a lot of information on the Internet. And if you want the support of professionals who have already passed the path of becoming managers and helped many engineers grow into test leads, then come to us for the QA Lead course at OTUS. There, in 6 months, we will analyze both technical issues of quality management and issues of general management and team development. On the course page, you can also register for free webinars on team design and test strategy formation.

Let’s summarize

The test lead is a multi-handed Shiva, whose task is not just to test better and faster than everyone else in the team, sometimes delegating tasks to refactoring the test repository or writing autotests.

The test lead is a manager. And like any manager, he has a lot of competencies and skills that need to be developed. I tried to describe a complete, perhaps even too ideal picture of what a good test lead should be able to do. But you should not rush headlong into everything at once. The main thing is how you should pump some key competencies for you, but know that there are others, and if possible, bring them up to an acceptable level.

Yitzhak Adizes in the methodology he developed said that one manager cannot fully cover all aspects of managerial activity. Depending on your experience, available skills and inclinations, something will be better, something worse. It seems that this is already a topic for another article.

Thanks everyone for reading! Comments are welcome, because each of us has our own unique experience of management or experience of observing the work of managers. It would be great if you could give your opinion on this matter. Maybe I missed something. If you want to express thanks for reading – I am also very grateful!

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